Signature Significance Verdict: Lena Dunham Is An Awful Human Being




If her boasting about abusing her little sister in her memoir wasn’t enough, Lena Dunham’s revealed conduct regarding “Barry” in the same tome rings the signature significance bell. No human being with a sufficient amount of decency would do something like this, even once.

In case you have not followed the latest ethics scandal involving the over-praised creator and star of HBO’s “Girls,” what occurred is this:

In one chapter of Dunham’s memoir “Not That Kind of Girl,” the feminist actress describes as factual an episode of sexual assault or rape that she says she experienced while an undergraduate at Oberlin. Her assailant was a well-known campus “Republican,” she says, a conservative whom she refers to as Barry—without the conventional quotes that would indicate a pseudonym.

There was, as it happens,  a real Oberlin college graduate from the same period named Barry, then well-known as a conservative, which then as now, is a species about as common at Oberlin as velociraptors. Besides his name and campus reputation, Barry fit some of the other details given by Dunham, such as wearing cowboy boots and sporting a flamboyant mustache. Now the 28-year-old man (the same age as Dunham)  is being tarred as a rapist, and has been forced to take down his social media accounts. He has hired a lawyer named Aaron Minc, with the help of donations from GoFundMe to help pay his legal fees, and has promised that any money he receives from the suit exceeding legal fees will go to charities assisting survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Dunham has not had the courage or decency to say anything, to or about Barry. But yesterday Random House did, in an extraordinary statement and admission:

As indicated on the copyright page of Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, some names and identifying details in the book have been changed. The name ‘Barry’ referenced in the book is a pseudonym. Random House, on our own behalf and on behalf of our author, regrets the confusion that has led attorney Aaron Minc to post on GoFundMe on behalf of his client, whose first name is Barry. We are offering to pay the fees Mr. Minc has billed his client to date. Our offer will allow Mr. Minc and his client to donate all of the crowd-funding raised to not-for-profit organizations assisting survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Law professor Eugene Volokh, writing in the Washington Post,  is properly aghast:

“How could Dunham and Random House do this? How could an author and a publisher — again, of a self-described memoir, not a work of fiction — describe a supposed rape by a person, give a (relatively rare) first name and enough identifying details that readers could easily track the person down, and not even mention that “Barry” wasn’t this person’s real name?

Say even that Dunham had forgotten that there really was a prominent Oberlin conservative named Barry back then. Surely it was obviously possible that, if one makes up a first name, someone real, who matches the other easily Google-findable characteristics, might have that name. Given the gravity of the charge, how can one possibly rely on a statement on the copyright page as the only hint that this particular item in the memoir is inaccurate?

Nor does Random House’s statement now help Identifiable Conservative Barry much. The memoir is still out there; many people have read it but haven’t seen the Random House statement; many more people will read it and not see the Random House statement. This is going to dog Identifiable Conservative Barry for years to come — for the simple reason that Dunham and Random House published a factual item (the statement that the alleged rapist was named Barry) that

1. they knew was false

2. without stating, clearly and immediately (again, as they had done with regard to another man),

3. that the name was made up.

How? I can answer that question (full disclosure: I like Random House, since it published my book):

Lena Dunham is an icon of the feminist left. This is why Breitbart did the initial investigation to discredit her: she’s a warrior against conservatives, which is why she repeatedly identified her rapist as a Republican. Dunham’s anti-conservative, Republican-hating fans were the market for the book, and so Random House editors were careless about letting Dunham be Dunham, and adopted her miserable values, or at least allowed them to run amuck. They didn’t care about Barry, because she didn’t, and her readers and fans wouldn’t. He’s a conservative and a Republican—heck, that as bad as being a rapist, right? After all, Dunham has previously compared Republicans to Nazis.

As for Dunham, she can behave this way because she is not merely an arrogant celebrity and Ethics Dunce, as I generously identified her before. She is an ethics vacuum.

I also like Ann Althouse’s more detailed and colorful diagnosis of Dunham’s thinking:

One answer to these questions is that Dunham wanted to hurt the real man named Barry and chose to take the risk that she might at some point lose a lawsuit. The risk could have seemed worth it because:

1. Real Man Named Barry would first have to expose himself and connect his real name to the nasty statements and assert that they are intended to be about him. He might shut up and endure the abuse (or even relax and enjoy it (Lena noticed me!)).

2. The defense is likely/somewhat likely to work: She didn’t use the man’s full name and she changed some details (like adding a mustache).

3. Free speech! The sympathy will go her way if she’s actually sued. Memoirists should not have to worry about using first names and making things up. The best people will probably cluster around her. Who wants more defamation lawsuits in this age of free expression? This is America, baby!

4. Fame, glorious fame! Say my name! Spell it right: L-E-N-A-D-U-N-H-A-M. No such thing as bad publicity. With a news hook, everyone will always talk about MEEEEEEEEEE!

Ideologues need to choose their heroes well, or at least better than this. If feminists keep attaching their mission to utter ficks like Lena Dunham (she is now in consideration for Fick of the Year), people will begin to associate them with unethical values and conduct, and what is worthy in that mission will be tainted as well. (See: Conservatives and Bill Cosby) This is how cognitive dissonance works, and anyone who associates his or her positions with Dunham deserves the full fury of its destructive force.

UPDATE: Dunham has now published an explanation, of sorts, which, unless you are a blind Dunham fan or in the market to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, only confirms the  assessment above. None of the controversy is her fault, says Lena, though she is the one who accused a man of rape without suggesting that the name she used was a pseudonym. It’s just a “surreal coincidence” that her description of “Barry” happens to fit a classmate named Barry, and nobody else.  And, of course, all the very legitimate criticism she and Random House have received is designed “to cast doubt on other women who have been sexually assaulted.” Right: Dunham falsely accuses an innocent man of rape by name, and she accuses critics who correctly pronounce that the despicable act it is as victimizing women.

She is contemptible.

Meanwhile, I keep reading that the critics of Dunham’s horrible conduct are “conservatives.” I’d like to know how recognizing and condemning miserable behavior is something liberals, by their own assessment, aren’t capable of doing. Funny, I didn’t think falsely accusing a man of  rape just because a woman doesn’t like his political views was acceptable to those on either side of the political spectrum.


Pointer: Althouse

Sources: Mediaite, New York Times, Volokh Conspiracy, Breitbart,




21 thoughts on “Signature Significance Verdict: Lena Dunham Is An Awful Human Being

  1. According to numerous scientific papers quoted by blog posts linked to by various forums and Reddit threads, condemning miserable behavior is a symptom of the disease known as “conservative thought”. Liberal brains are evolving past such primitive notions, you know.

      • There must be some interesting and valid science behind the way different people think, but most of the work is so disgustingly biased as to be useless. Stopping to think about how you’re thinking should lead to more ethical thought, so having a better understanding of your brain’s own biological tendencies should provide more to think about at that higher level. If that scientific knowledge is skewed by a politically slant, no one benefits. A Liberal confirmation bias sees it as a blunt object to beat Conservatives with, and Conservative confirmation bias lets Conservatives pretend it doesn’t exist.

  2. I don’t know which I would be more tempted to do in Barry’s place: keep the donated money for myself on the grounds that the universe/humans/karma owed me some kind of payout to balance the scales anyway, or donate the money to the Tea Party/a crisis pregnancy center/the Sarah Palin presidential campaign fund/anything else I could think of that Lena Dunham would hate. I have to admire him for taking what seems to be the high road in all this.

  3. This, I submit, together with the Rolling Stone debacle, should mark the faux “war on women’s” Waterloo and be emblematic of what happens when groups stop talking to each other and start talking AT each other.

    Last generation’s feminists sought answers, wanted equality with men, and their heroes were Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. This generation of feminists think they have all the answers, want to dominate men, and their heroes are Madonna, Lena, and Hilary Clinton. Yet they think they are six degrees of awesome just by virtue of being female. It’s times like this that make me sleep well never having taken a wife.

  4. I don’t like this woman, but it is possible that someone assaulted her.

    Did she have an obligation to make sure that no one would be mistaken as the “Barry” in her book? Certainly she should be faulted for not putting in the usual * or quotes indicating that names had been changed, but I don’t know everyone with whom I went to school. A lot of people could have made a similar mistake.

    • I’ll stipulate that she could have been raped or assaulted, though her credibility is nil. It sure sounds like she fingered the wrong guy. Do you really think there were multiple Barrys in her class that wore cowboy boots (in Oberlin?) and were well-known Republicans on campus? Come on. In my class, on my college campus, there was exactly one well-known Republican/conservative, and his name was Greg. If a women said “a well-known Republican/conservative named Greg sexually assaulted me,” everyone would know exactly who she meant, and it would be a disaster for the guy, who is, in fact, a wonderful father and a respected public servant. Whether or not she was really assaulted isn’t the issue, is it?

      • The issue is the truth of the identity of her attacker. If in fact this is the guy, then truth is the defense, but in this case she’s admitted it isn’t. She has an obligation not to slime people with untruths for the sake of her agenda.

        Between this, executive orders that rewrite laws, and the calls for a “show trial” of Officer Wilson, this is sounding less and less like America. It isn’t the first time – FDR governed as an elected king during a time of constant crisis and we’ve already discussed Woodrow Wilson’s overreach – but neither of those were good things or good for the country. In a way what’s going on is worse, because the government is of course saying we are no longer in any kind of danger, yet the government and the media keep trying to silence those who don’t toe the party line, including on women’s issues.

      • Don’t assume that she knew this. I didn’t know many of the political people at my schools. But it’s also possible that she did all this on purpose because she is an awful human being. If she were a more credible person, I bet you would give her the benefit of the doubt.

        • That’s where signature significance comes in, Beth. When someone has already acted outrageously multiple times and set themselves up as a rotten person there’s really no doubt to give them the benefit of. You, Jack, and I are all lawyers, you know what damage it can do to someone’s credibility if you show they lied about one thing or did one bad thing. Don’t twist yourself up in knots finding a way out of this one, I think you are wiser than that.

        • Who says “I was raped by a Republican” anyway, unless that person is completely addled with bias and unable to separate her agendas? I can’t imagine I would ever believe someone who says “a prominent Republican named Barry who wore cowboy boots and had a flamboyant mustache raped me” and then when the a prominent Republican named Barry who wore cowboy boots and had a flamboyant mustache hires a lawyer and says “prove that in court,” claims that she meant another prominent Republican who wore cowboy boots and had a flamboyant mustache, and just picked Barry as his name by coincidence. You would??

    • It’s not a reasonable mistake. The description is such that it’s fairly obvious she was deliberately targeting him. There is no coincidence here.

  5. Did he take off the boots and mustache before he allegedly raped her? We don’t have all the details here.
    As you know, we often prepare a reply when the other person is speaking. How much better off we all would be if we restated the first message before giving our side. I’m really, really tired of seeing an argument dismissed as just an example of liberal or conservative bias. I’m also tired of seeing writers, reporters, correspondents and editors failing to do all the necessary legwork. (I’d put lawyers in that category, too, but sometimes the failure is a deliberate attempt to conceal.)

    • We have enough: She said a prominent Republican on campus named Barry, not “Barry”, raped her. Researchers have only found one prominent Republican on that campus from that period, and he was named Barry. Dunham’s excuse is manifestly unbelievable.

      Moreover, as Barry has now pointed out, Dunham refused to exonerate him until he threatened a lawsuit, leaving him to twist in the wind for almost two months.

      There’s nothing ideological about this. I know all I need to. Whether she was assaulted or not, she was reckless, irresponsible, and unfair. There is no excuse for her conduct.

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